In television, ‘talent’ isn’t just the people in front of the camera. Everyone working at a station needs talent, dedication, initiative, and team spirit to succeed.
TV production is a team effort. Most new hires are assigned to work early mornings, nights, and weekends. Sometimes the job can be tedious. Sometimes studios and control rooms can be so cold you could hang meat in them. This is one reason stations often hand out sweatshirts to crews. Successful team members overcome those challenges with love for what they do, pride in their work, and respect for every member of the crew.
When TV station department managers hire new employees, they are looking for people who will fit on the team. Production people, engineers and technicians who don’t like working nights, weekends or holidays need not apply because managers know they will not last. They want people with the right attitude and skills to succeed in the job they are being hired for.
Not everyone who applies brings a resume long with experience at other stations. Many want to get into the business for the first time. Some have Communications or Journalism degrees. Others do not but they may have industrial TV experience. Management is betting that each person they hire will succeed, and they often base their hiring decision on how people act and react during the job interview.
The dynamics of TV stations create job opportunities. Some successful TV people like to move on to larger markets with better pay. Others retire. New live shows sometimes need additional crew. What can you do to improve your odds of being hired?
Get Your Foot In The Door
- Meet everyone you can, particularly people with connections to local TV. When confronted with a stack of anonymous applications, any resume from someone referred to you makes you stand out. Do not feel odd reaching out yourself to someone you know in the business. It is expected and will not negatively affect your chances of getting hired.
- Spell everything correctly in your application. Everything. People reviewing resumes are looking for any reason to disqualify you; it's harsh, yet expedient, and simplifies the challenge of whittling down the pile.
- Your email address should be something professional: Short, understandable, and innocuous. I wish I had a dollar for every email address I received on an application that violated that rule. I've received scores of others over the years that may be just fine for your friends but have no home in a professional environment. Set up a gmail account ("[email protected]" for example) and be done with it. Also check your email. Missing a reply or invitation for an interview is another common mistake. Young applicants are using email less and less. If we replied to applications via TikTok, I would change that advice, but, alas, we do not.
- Make sure your voicemail is set up and not full. Also, please, please make sure the Greeting is appropriate and not "YO! You know what to do. BEEEPP." At some point, at least for now, potential employers may be calling you.
- Check the Careers page of the ownership page of any stations you are interested in (look at Wikipedia if you don't know). Check them regularly; every day is not too much. Set up an email alert for jobs you are interested in.
- Interviewing. The questions asked are more a way for the person interviewing you to get some feel for your personality. The manager is also adding to their work family and will be understandably cautious. Do not mumble, look down, or off to one side. This is your chance to shine.
- Internships are the NUMBER ONE pool of talent managers pull from. The intern has already shown they are reliable, motivated, and easy to work with. Part timers are the number two pool of talent, for the same reasons. The third pool is people who have come recommended by people you trust. Everyone else is lumped into the generic pile.
- When I was sifting through resumes, I always looked for more than completion of the basic video courses. Video work done outside school shows this is your passion, and you'll do it for free, if need be. I'd always gravitate towards people who ran camera at church, did freelance work, independent films, podcasts, and similar electronic media work.
- Watch some programming on the station you are applying to. It will give you one more advantage when interviewing. 98% of the young people I interviewed never watched TV at ALL, especially not local news or local programming, ever. Make sure the interviewer knows you have watched their programs; it's a guaranteed leg up.
- Never be late. It's better to be 10 minutes early than 10 seconds late. The 6 o'clock news always starts at 6:00:00.
Engineers And Technicians
Technical people typically possess a technical skill they learned at school, in the military, or with a hobby such as computers and IP or ham radio. One of the most critical engineering shortages is of people who understand and know RF.
The foundation of TV stations is RF transmission, and RF is commonly used throughout stations for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, satellite links, microwave links, wireless mics and comm systems. Not every engineer is an RF expert and those who are enjoy excellent job security. Who does management call when the station unexpectedly goes off air? The RF expert.
People without TV maintenance experience applying for a maintenance position may be tested. It’s not uncommon for a station to create a maintenance issue in a piece of gear and let the applicant analyze and fix it on the station’s bench. The test separates those who can-do from those who wish they could.
Answer Your Phone
TV gear often breaks at the worst possible time and people get sick. The chief engineer usually gets the 3 a.m. call from an ill employee who can’t make it in for a 5 a.m. shift. The chief then must call other technicians at 3 a.m. to find someone to cover the shift. Getting a wee-hours wakeup call from your boss asking for help comes with the territory. Ignoring that call or saying no is not a good career move. Your chief engineer doesn’t want to wake up more people until someone agrees to help. A positive response is your responsibility as a team player.
The author thanks Pete Barrett, recently retired Production Manager at WCIA, for his input and advice preparing this story.
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